The Real Reason My Biracial Son Has Long Hair

Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

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When my son was born, he had a faint whisper of fine brown hair. “Have his curls come in yet?” my mother would ask each time we spoke. By the time he was two, they sat on his forehead in perfect spirals; a mop of coils that bounced about in every direction as his body did the same.

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“He’s got the good hair.” “Oh, I just want to touch it. Can I?” “What a beautiful little girl you have!”

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We couldn’t leave the house without someone strange or familiar commenting on the head of my child. If he was bothered by the attention, he never really expressed it. He didn’t necessarily thrive on it either, but rather came to accept it as something to navigate and traverse like cracks in the sidewalk.
When he was three, he quietly took a pair of kid scissors and hid in his room, hacking a chunk out of the back before being discovered by his dad. I arrived home to find my husband far more anxious about delivering the news than the would-be hairdresser himself.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT?” I demanded.

“What? The hair? I threw it in the trash can. Why?”

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I scrambled to the kitchen to rescue what I could. The curls I had stroked as they lay splayed against the pillow as he slept. The curls I untangled each morning and marveled at from across the playground. I tucked them safely into an envelope and away in a drawer acutely aware for the first time that his body was not simply an extension of mine.
In preschool he came home from a sleepover at his grandparents house, his scalp tightly lined with cornrows. With his hair out of the way, it was so easy to appreciate the angular beauty of his maturing face. If he ever had baby fat, all traces of it had vanished, leaving behind chiseled features that hinted at the man he’ll become. I loved finding his eyes so easily; the eyes that always hold a soft skepticism, reluctant to give anything away before letting someone in.
He loved it, too. He said it made him faster. As he darted up the busy pedestrian mall in our tiny city, the same people who’d stop in their tracks to compliment or observe this wild and wonderful creature when the wind blew through his curls, now said nothing. I can’t make assumptions about their assessment of my son, but I know that as his mother, I sensed the world was receiving him differently. It weighed on me.
Not long after, we faced the childhood scourge of lice. Teeming with bugs that evolved simply to make people miserable, I could have shaved his head completely. Instead, I spent countless hours combing, picking, treating, and obsessing. As we sat, “Spongebob” on loop, I considered why I was so reluctant to simply cut it off. How much should a child be defined by their hairstyle? What was I teaching him?

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Little black boy at the beach with long hair
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I tried to envision him with a closely cropped cut – without the curls that echoed his sweet and silly free spirit. In my mind’s eye, he looked harder, more stand-offish and tough. As much as I had tried to convince myself otherwise, I considered what adding those qualities to his brown skin would mean.
There’s nothing I hate more than the fact that we live in a world where a child too young to cross the street alone can be seen as threatening. That police can pump bullets into the torso of a boy who closely resembled my son with only two seconds of gathering information. Black boys aren’t granted the benefit of the doubt. And it’s my duty to parent from a place of knowing that.

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He’s 10 now and with each passing year, his unruly mass of brown hair with copper streaks has grown longer and more deeply connected to how he defines himself. As far as he knows, it’s cool; a feature that makes him unmissable even in silhouette. He likes it just the way it is and for that, I am grateful.
But the day may come when he asks to cut it, and to be honest, I don’t know how easily I’ll give in. Not because I want to control him, but because it’s the one thing to which I’ve hitched the illusion that I can control the way people see him.

His body is not an extension of mine. My white, small-statured body bears the weight of mothering a boy in a world that sees him as less than.

8 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Than Just Cheese Puffs

In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion.

Interested in having your kids eat nutritious food that hasn’t been processed and pummelled into a dinosaur or star shape? It’s tricky, in this age of happy meals and cookie-flavored cereal, to coax our children into eating actual food.
In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion. Below are a few proven methods that have actually worked. I hope that you, too, are blessed with a child who sometimes consumes food that doesn’t fall into the cheese puff family.

1 | Ban “candy”

No, I don’t mean ban actual candy. What with Halloween and birthday party bags and in-laws, removing all traces of candy from your home is impossible. But you can avoid the word “candy.”
The reason this is so important is because once your child is thinking about manufactured sugar, it’s tough to get them to accede to eating a food that only contains naturally occurring sugars (most of them do!). So take care around these two syllables. It’s a word that must never be spoken, kind of like Voldemort.

2 | Feign apathy

Sure. You really want your kids to eat the chicken and sweet potatoes you have lovingly prepared for them. Your heart breaks when they look at the plate and a stricken expression clouds over their features, as if a live goldfish had been placed in front of them.
But here’s the thing about getting your kids to eat well – the more you need for them to eat something, the less likely they are to eat it. It’s a control thing, and since children own their mouths, they will always win this very unhealthy power game.

3 | Obscure the goodness

This one only works if you have time to cook and bake, but hiding spinach in a batch of brownies really does work, as does sneaking carrots into a smoothie and disguising zucchini as a type of muffin.
Kudos to whoever thought of adding a cup of spinach to a cake batter. Also, who on earth thought of adding spinach to batter?

4 | Condiments!

Sauces and dips are a parent’s best friend. Solitary carrot sticks look as sad as they sound. But the same exact thing next to a bowl of hummus? Magic! That’s because anything that’s messy will appeal to your kid. You probably already deduced that by now, because look at the state of your house.

5 | Negotiate at your peril

“If you eat three more cucumber slices, I will let you drive the Lamborghini” is something you should not say under any circumstances, and this isn’t just because you have never owned an luxury Italian sports car.
Bargaining with kids – while tempting – usually backfires. You know this. We all know this. The fact that we all still negotiate with our children sometimes is concrete proof that parenthood addles the brain.

6 | Reimagine pasta

My kids, and most kids, do like some healthy foods. Pasta is one of them. But because my kids enjoy it, I sometimes forget what a good, wholesome food this is. We may never own a Lamborghini, but we’ll always have this awesome Italian export.

7 | Sous chef junior

To let your child help you in the kitchen, or not to let your child help you in the kitchen – that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to allow small people to feel as if they are contributing to the housework, or better to just get it done efficiently and neatly while they’re watching “Paw Patrol”.
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to this age-old question, but most kids are more likely to eat something when they’ve had a hand in cooking it. You know what they say: The course of true parenthood is completely chaotic.

8 | The DIY meal

Whether it’s tacos or pitas, kids like to put things in other things. That’s why you once found 23 pennies inside your favorite pair of wedge pumps. Assembling their own meals is fun for kids and, like with the condiments, they will make a mess. Making peace with mess is just part of parenthood. Just like dealing with picky eaters!

8 Common Parenting Phrases That Backfire

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve used some or all of these phrases at some point or another.

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve used some or all of these phrases at some point or another. Here are some research-backed reasons why these eight common parenting phrases often backfire in ways we wouldn’t expect.

1 | “Don’t cry”

It can be so tempting to tell children not to cry because we deal with crying all the time, but telling children not to cry invalidates their feelings and teaches them not to openly share their emotions with you. Instead, try naming their feeling by saying, “You are so sad/scared/upset right now.”

By giving them words to describe their emotion, you validate it while also giving them the language they need to describe that feeling the next time they have it.

2 | “Stop _____”

Stop running. Stop yelling. Stop throwing things. Any time a parent uses this kind of directive, research shows that children are actually less likely to stop their behavior. Children’s brains are programmed to do what they hear. So if you say, “Stop running,” the last thing they hear is “run.” By saying, “Remember to use your walking feet,” you are telling them exactly how they should be moving. It also frames the directive in a more positive light.

3 | “Say sorry”

Young children are being taught to say “sorry” long before they’re actually developmentally capable of feeling sorry for their actions. The act of saying sorry appeases adults because it’s the polite thing to do, but research shows that saying sorry isn’t what causes children to become empathetic adults.

Instead, it’s much more productive to teach children to take action to help the person they’ve offended. For the child that breaks down another child’s block tower, have her help fix the tower. For the child that bites, have him get the other child some ice. By teaching our children that their actions have real consequences and require more than an un-empathetic “sorry,” they’ll become less likely to do these things again and become more empathetic in the process.

4 | “We don’t hit”

Or “we don’t throw,” “we don’t bite,” etc. This one is tricky because the purpose of this phrase is to show the child that they’re a part of a group that has rules to keep us safe. Unfortunately, for many children that are “repeat offenders” in terms or hitting or biting or any other negative behavior, this phrase can make them feel like an outsider of the group.

A much more productive approach is to say, “It is not okay to hit,” and to express how it made you or the other child feel. Follow up by having the child take action to help repair any damage that was done. 

5 | “See?”

This is the classic “I told you so.” You tell the child to stop jumping on the couch; she doesn’t listen, and ends up falling off the couch and hurting herself. You respond with “See, I told you not to jump on the couch.”

This response shames the child and doesn’t provide her the opportunity for problem solving or reflection. It’s best to wait until the child is calm, and then have a conversation about what happened and ask her how she will make a better choice the next time.

6 | “No whining”

Whining is a challenge. It’s so annoying that you just want it to stop – and quick! But telling kids not to whine doesn’t stop their whining. Instead, try saying, “Use your strong voice,” or ask, “How can we solve this problem?” By tapping into the child’s problem-solving capabilities, you empower him to have some control over the situation.

You can also try parenting expert Lynn Lott’s “Asked and Answered” strategy. When your child has asked a question and you have responded with “No,” and yet he keeps whining, you can say, “Asked and Answered.” Once the child understands this phrase and it’s used consistently in the home, the child will be less likely to whine, nag, or negotiate.

7 | “How many times do I have to tell you?”

This phrase backfires because it sends a message that you’re willing to tell your child something more than once. If the child hasn’t responded the first time, it’s likely that she either 1) didn’t hear you or understand the direction the first time, or 2) is avoiding the direction. How we deal with this situation varies based on which category it falls into, but saying “How many times do I have to tell you,” sends the wrong message and doesn’t get our children to do what we’ve asked.

8 | “Wait until your father gets home”

This classic phrase does two things: it builds fear for the reaction of the parent that’s not present, and it sends the message that you aren’t going to take action in the moment. Consequences for young children must happen in the moment in order for them to be effective – waiting for Dad or Mom to get home makes the consequence ineffective in the long run. Additionally, when children build up a fear of their parents’ reaction, it makes the child less likely to come to the parent when he’s done something wrong for fear of punishment.

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A Parent Primer on How to Deal With Bullies

It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

The moment your wrinkly, wailing baby enters this world, there’s one thing you’re sure of: you’re never going to let anyone hurt your precious child. If they try, they’ll first have to contend with mama bear.
By the time your child enters elementary school there’s one thing you’re sure of: you can’t possibly protect your child 24/7.
You have flashbacks of third grade when you were made fun of for the unlikeliest of things: your name, your lunch, your outfit, your glasses, you name it. While cyberbullying has taken the risks and repercussions to a whole new level, “traditional” bullying is still pervasive with one in three children reporting being bullied in school.
It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

1 | Watch for signs

Sometimes, bullying is not overt and children may not be able to put a label on it. When my son was in Kindergarten, for instance, his best friend would often force him to erase pictures he’d drawn or words he’d painstakingly written. When I asked my son about it, he matter-of-factly replied that his best bud had ordered him to erase his work, “or else he won’t be my friend.” It wasn’t a one time deal. My son couldn’t play with other kids or sit next to anyone else during circle time “or else.”
It wasn’t name calling or hitting but it was a power imbalance that amounted to bullying. Often times, we have to watch for the warning signs which could range from aggressive behavior at home to poor grades at school to something as innocuous as erased pictures. We need to take bullying seriously especially when it’s clearly a pattern of behavior that the aggressor exhibits.

2 |  Don’t confront the bully’s parents

As a parent, you instantly bristle with emotion when you know your child is a pawn in a bully’s hands. You want it to stop and you want it to stop now. But confronting the bully’s parents about their child’s behavior will likely elicit a defensive argument. Now is the time to use one of those “Keep Calm” slogans you see everywhere: Keep calm and talk to the teacher. Escalate the conversation to higher levels of authority like the elementary school coordinator, the school counselor, and the principal, if it’s not tackled at the teacher level. Bullying is not about a kid having a hard day. It’s a community problem and requires the community to come together.

3 | Empower your child

As important as it is to teach your child self-confidence, they also need a game plan for when a bully tries to engage them. Here are some strategies that experts suggest:

Teach them to report the situation

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30 percent of children report bullying to an adult. That’s a shockingly low percentage for such a pervasive problem. Teach your child to call bullying out, rather than excuse it, and encourage them to tell a parent, teacher, or coach about the problem.

Teach them to stay confident

Train your child to make eye contact and stand tall but never engage physically with the bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, it’s best not to encourage your child to fight back, as it could lead to more aggression.

Teach them to stay calm and be kind

This two-pronged approach is advocated by leading social skills communicator Brooks Gibbs. In a widely-viewed video outlining these two techniques, Gibbs teaches children strategies which are perhaps counter cultural.
The first rule – don’t get upset – teaches the child to play it cool. When the child (and this works best with tweens and upward) responds nonchalantly to the bully’s aggression, he or she communicates a simple message: what you’re saying doesn’t bother me one tiny bit. The fallout of this is that the bully gets bored. Once emotion is taken out of the picture, the bully has no ammo to continue his or her verbal tirade.
The second rule Gibbs advocates – treat them like a friend – goes one step further. It means showing kindness to the perceived enemy. And, yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Gibbs’ theory is that if you respond to a bully’s verbal aggression with kindness that throws them completely off kilter. Bullying, Gibbs says, is an imbalance of power. Kindness unhinges that power struggle.
With a little bit of practice (okay, maybe lots), kids (and grownups) can get emotionally resilient and outsmart the bully. Bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage or an incontrovertible part of childhood. Let’s show our kids there are ways out.

Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

Now That My Kids Are Big: 25 Things I Will Never Have to Do Again

I have to remind myself that it wasn’t all sunny days and cuddle-time. I have to remind myself that every phase of motherhood has its joys and challenges.

There are eight years between our eldest and youngest sons (with two girls in between). Our youngest recently turned 13, which means that my husband and I will have spent 15 years – a decade and a half, roughly 5,475 days – parenting teenagers before we tap out in 2024, not that I’m counting.

I actually (mostly) enjoy being the mom of a houseful of young adults and almost-adults. They are smart and interesting, and every day they make me laugh. But whoever told me, all those years ago when I was wrangling a houseful of little ones, that it would get easier was a bold-faced liar.

What I wouldn’t give now to be able to schedule their play dates or coax my kids into submission with just the promise of an extra episode of “Backyardigans.” How I would love to be able to physically move them out of harm’s way or strap them into their carseats and just drive them around until they stop fussing.

Yes, in many ways having small children was easier, and I loved those years. In fact, though I wouldn’t trade my teenagers for all the world, I am one of those moms who would gladly go back and do it all over again. Since I can’t go back, I sometimes have to remind myself that it wasn’t all sunny days and cuddle-time. I have to remind myself that every phase of motherhood has its joys and challenges.

When that doesn’t work, when I’m really longing for the simpler days of life with little children, it helps to stop and think about all the things that weren’t easy about having small ones and all the things I’ll never have to do again now that all my kids are big. Things like:

  • Catch vomit in my hands
  • Be used as a human napkin
  • Simultaneously nurse a baby and feed a squirming toddler
  • Hear “Swiper! No swiping!”
  • Sing “The Wheels on the Bus” all the way to the Gulf Coast
  • Interrupt a conversation to smell another person’s bottom
  • Get up in the middle of the night and step on a wet diaper – or a Lego
  • Fish something out of another person’s mouth
  • Bargain with someone to get her to eat
  • Eat any place that doubles as an arcade
  • Live with the shame of just throwing a towel over the spot in the bed where someone peed in the night
  • Assemble a doll house at one a.m.
  • Have the panicky realization that we’re only an hour into a 10-hour road trip and our car’s DVD player just stopped working
  • Try to sneak money under the pillow and pretend it was there all along
  • Cut grapes in half
  • Hide in my closet to eat the last cookie
  • Hear the words, “Hey kids! Wanna watch a show?” and know that was foreplay
  • Calm someone down who is hysterical because his sock is twisted
  • Go out to dinner with my husband only to eat our meals in shifts
  • Fall asleep reading “Blueberries for Sal”
  • Be frantically shaken awake because I fell asleep reading “Blueberries for Sal”
  • Count to three to get a response
  • Spend half the morning running errands before someone tells me I have spit-up down the back of my shirt
  • Carefully examine the contents of a diaper in hopes of finding that penny
  • Watch even one more episode of Barney

Of course, none of these minor annoyances ever really lessened the joy of parenting small children, just as none of the worry and stress of raising big kids lessens the joy of watching them grow into adults. No, parenting big kids might not be a cakewalk, but I won’t wish even one of those 5,475 days away. I know from experience how quickly they will be over and how much I will wish I could do it all again.

There’s No Crying in Parenting

At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.

From about 18 months to four years old, Briggs kept his meltdowns private. His behavior started small at first – random hitting for no reason, throwing temper tantrums, and what seemed like normal “terrible two” behavior, but on some sort of cocktail of Adderall and Mountain Dew.
As he has gotten older, his behavior has grown with him. We’ve gone through the spitting phase, the name calling phase, the tantrum on the floor as if his bones were made of limp noodles phase, and the screaming at the top of his lungs phase.
When he turned four (two years ago now), he escalated to directly hitting us…on purpose. The first time he punched me, I may have audibly started talking to the Lord as an intercessor for my husband, lest he be overtaken by the Spirit and hand Briggs’ own behind to him on a silver platter. I am almost certain Madea overtook my mouth as I cried out to the “Lort” on Briggs’ behalf.
Fast forward a year, and he has graduated to public displays of crazy. The first time was epic. I will literally never forget it. At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.
Not the time I split my super sweet maroon-colored Guess jeans in gym class in sixth grade. Not the time I got busted in middle school Sharpie-ing a Nike swoosh on my Payless high-tops because I couldn’t afford the real ones. Not even the time they posted our mile run times above the water fountain in gym, and I was dead last with a light speed time of 18:18.
No, nothing thus far had ever made me feel so small as that moment in the Florida diner.
We were on our way back from a work trip to Orlando and everyone was hungry. We don’t get to travel much, so we love to check out little mom and pop types of places when we’re out of town. We stopped in this little diner called Eddie’s in Nowheresville, Florida for what the Yelp reviewers said were, “Florida’s best chicken and waffles.”
We held hands and ran through the rain to get inside the restaurant. I held Sparrow, our then six-month-old daughter, on my lap and helped Briggs manage the coloring sheet the hostess had given him as Spence made his way to the men’s room all the way in the back of the diner.
Forks clanged and men laughed from the bar. As I helped Briggs sound out the words on his children’s menu and he colored in a Spiderman, I noticed there were two women sitting in the booth directly beside our table.
They were both well-dressed and appeared to be in their late 60s. One had on an oversized necklace that reminded me of the costume jewelry my aunt used to wear, and the other had that kind of hairdo women have who would rather donate their arms to science than get wet at the pool. I imagined they both had large, flamboyant broaches for every holiday neatly displayed in some sort of well-lit case in their bedrooms.
They hadn’t noticed me…yet.
When Briggs finished coloring, he wanted to tear the paper because, naturally, Spiderman wouldn’t live in the same realm as a children’s menu. He began tearing the page and I watched it happen as if it were unfolding in slow motion. The paper’s tear went from the center of the page and, like an earthquake’s line in the dry desert clay, separated Spiderman’s foot from the rest of his body.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!” Briggs’ scream rang out across the small diner. Once filled with the loud bangs of forks and knives, the chatter of old friends catching up, and that guy who’d had one too many at the bar, it fell silent. Deafeningly silent. My son’s eyes filled with tears of rage and he crumpled up the amputated Spiderman and threw him under another family’s table.
“Pick that up, please.” I said, attempting to keep calm as everyone watched the dinner show they hadn’t paid for.
“No! I will NEVER pick it up!” he screamed back.
With everyone watching, Briggs stood up as though he’d had a change of heart and decided to pick up the balled-up menu after all. Instead, he grabbed a chair from the table beside ours, where a man sat eating by himself, and threw it.
He. Threw. A. Chair.
By this time, all eyes were on us. The entire diner was paralyzed. I looked up to see Spence tearing through the crowd to get to me. He’d heard Briggs yell all the way in the bathroom.
Without a word, I handed Sparrow over to him, took Briggs by the arm, and walked him outside into the rain. We walked passed stunned faces, horrified looks, and the hostess who looked like she might have her finger on the last “1” in 9-1-1. I smiled, walked Briggs out in the pouring rain and across the street and under an awning, where he proceeded to hit me, kick, scream, cry, and flail backwards so hard that I had to position myself between his head and the abandoned store’s brick wall behind me.
I took deep breaths and talked to him until he calmed himself. “Listen to me breathing, buddy. Deep breaths. Match my breathing,” I said as I fought to hold back tears.
Once he had it together, we walked back into the restaurant. I thought the original walk of shame was the worst thing I’d have to face that day, but I was wrong. Try going through that meltdown and then staring back at the faces of those who just spent the better part of the last 20 minutes talking about what your kid just did while making guesses at how you handled it.
I smiled again and walked Briggs back to the table by ours where he picked up his crumpled menu from the floor and uprighted the tossed chair. He apologized to the man who had been eating alone when he lost his mind as if he were tagging in Rick Flair in an early 90s wrestling match.
“I’m sorry I threw your chair, sir,” he said with his head hung in shame. The man smiled back his forgiveness.
I sat back down in my seat just as the two well-dressed ladies were getting up to leave. I desperately wanted to avoid eye contact because I felt certain they had judged me. I was convinced they’d finished their salads and lemon waters over conversations about “kids these days” and what terrible parents Spence and I must be.
Instead, the lady with the necklace stopped just behind our table on her way out. She turned to me so I had to meet her eyes with my own – and smiled. Then she mouthed the words, “You did a great job.”
I mustered a faint smile in return and lowered my head, hot tears streaking down both sides of my face.
I had never felt so completely alone as I did during that meltdown and the moments after. I may always remember that feeling, but I know I will never forget that woman’s smile. Her muted approval reminded me that no matter how many people stare or point fingers, no matter how many people disagree with the parenting decisions we make, I am doing the best I can, and that is good enough.

18 Simple Ways to Infuse Each Day With Learning

Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.

Teaching your child about World War II or how to do double digit addition is important. But those are limited facts and skills. Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.
Here are 18 easy ways to foster a love of learning in the midst of everyday life.

Read to them

Reading not only has physical and emotional benefits. There is concrete evidence that it helps brain development and academic growth as well. With so much possibility, reading is the perfect way to help kids fall in love with learning.

Let them see you read

While reading to your children has many benefits, letting them see you read shows kids that reading is forever. It’s not just for babies. It’s not just for school. Read in front of them (and Facebook doesn’t count).

Be outdoors

Time outside provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development, risk-taking, and exploring, all of which prove beneficial to learning. There is also a direct correlation between time outside and reduction of stress, confidence building, and exposure to different stimuli.

Sing, play, and listen to music

The brain benefits of music are numerous. Plus, music has the ability to bring joy, relaxation, and express ideas.

Relax

True learning goes far beyond grades in a classroom. Show them you believe that by spending time with your kids doing nothing much in particular except enjoying each other’s company.

Embrace what they love

Give kids the opportunity to explore the things they love. If your child is into trains right now, find books about trains, build a train, draw a train, watch trains at the train station. Allow your child to guide their learning through their passions.

Talk about learning

Let them know when you discover something new. “Wow, I never knew that popcorn could burn so quickly. I wonder why?” Kids need to see that we are always learning, even in the ordinary.

Ask questions

I know it feels like all we do is answer questions. So start asking. “How did that bird know I just put birdseed out?” or “Why are there police officers guarding the construction workers?” Questions are the foundation of learning.

Give them money

I know it can be painfully slow, but letting them pay at the store and count change is real life learning. If you use plastic for all your payments, talk about how that works, too.

Wonder

Encourage your children to think freely about things, without boundaries. Some of the best ideas started with wild wondering!

Play

School keeps kids busy learning good things. But there is not a lot of room for play in a regular day. Giving kids the opportunity to play with no agenda allows them to be better thinkers.

Ask random math questions

Math facts are foundational for good mental math, but kids don’t always want more schoolwork. Make math facts fun by asking them when you’re doing something else, like driving, hiking, or making dinner. Make it easy, fun, and short.

Keep reading picture books

Even as kids get older, picture books can provide unique opportunities for learning. Increased connection with the text, vocabulary, and a more sensory approach to reading keeps the experience enjoyable and beneficial.

Go places

Visit the sea or a mountain. Spend time at the free art museum or check out the historical house in town. Experiences make learning part of life and create schema, a personal framework for learning.

Create

Giving kids the chance to create through art, music, science, or any imaginative play helps them develop better thinking skills that translate far outside the classroom.

Enlist help

Helping with adult tasks gives kids new skills and shows them the need to learn throughout life. Cooking, taking pictures, changing the oil, and doing laundry all show kids that there is always something new they can do.

Fail

Often. Let them see that failure is part of learning. Recognizing failure as part of the learning process rather than an end to learning shows kids to keep going. Demonstrate that it’s okay, even good, to fail because it’s all part of the process.

Did I mention read?

It’s one of the simplest things you can do with endless possibilities. Read to learn, for fun, and for life.

Your Kid Wants a Tattoo or Piercing? Don’t Freak Out, Talk.

Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past.

For the first time ever, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to review the incidence of youth tattoos and piercings in depth.
Led by Dr. David Levine, a general pediatrician and professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the new AAP report highlights the potential health risks and social/emotional consequences of tattooing and piercing in adolescents and young adults.
Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past. According to the Harris Poll in 2015, about 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 20 percent just four years before.
Tattoos are especially popular among younger generations, with nearly half of all Millennials sporting one. According to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of 18 to 29-year-olds have piercings in locations other than their earlobe.
This may not be a big deal for some parents, especially those who have their own tattoos and creative piercings. But for some parents, it becomes an issue to add to the long list of parenting dilemmas. Permanent body art may not even be on their radar if nobody else in the family enjoys that form of expression or if their cultural or religious beliefs consider the practice taboo.
We have two choices: forbid our kids to get tattooed or pierced and risk that they do it anyway behind our back (and possibly get hurt or regret it), or initiate an open dialogue and work with our kids to guide them to the best decision possible.

Identifying why your child wants it

The first step is to explore your kids’ goals and motives for wanting a tattoo or piercing. This conversation can lead to a simple answer, like they just want to show off their artistic flare. Alternatively, the conversation could open the door to issues you were not aware of.
According to the Harris Poll, people typically get tattoos because it makes them feel: sexy (33 percent), attractive (32 percent), rebellious (27 percent), spiritual (20 percent), intelligent (13 percent), employable (10 percent), and healthy (9 percent).
If your daughter wants a tattoo at age 15 to feel sexier, then a red flag may go up. You could broaden your conversation to her reasons for wanting to attract more attention, her current sexual activity, and the feelings she has about her own body.
If your son wants a tattoo to feel tougher or more rebellious, you may want to explore his level of anger and aggression. Is he having trouble making friends in school? Has he displayed signs of bullying?
If your child wants to ingrain the name of a significant other on their skin, you may need to talk to them about the level of commitment involved and the possibility of future heartbreak.
Finally, if they are doing it for spiritual reasons, what is the message they want to communicate, and why now? Should you be concerned about the influence a religious leader or spiritual mentor has on your child?
We need to take the time to listen to our children’s reasons so that we can help guide them. The answer may be very simple and positive, like they want the word “peace” on their body because they wish for world peace. It’s hard to argue with that.

Addressing your concerns

Talk to your children about exactly what getting a tattoo or piercing involves. They may be so set on it that they haven’t thought through some of the possible risks or downfalls.
For starters, the AAP report addresses the possible job market repercussions down the road. Some employers may frown upon visible tattoos in the workplace, which can limit your child’s job prospects and success. In a 2014 survey of nearly 2,700 people, 76 percent thought that tattoos and/or piercings had hurt their chances of getting a job, and 39 percent thought employees with tattoos and/or piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
While your child may be many years away from getting their first job, it’s important to talk to her about how a tattoo or piercing can impact her life in the future. Ask her to consider the risk involved, taking into account that life dreams should take precedence over a potentially rash, trendy decision in her teenage years.
Consider a compromise. Suggest that your child get a tattoo in a place that would not be visible on the job. Piercings are a bit more challenging. Clearly, a tongue ring could hinder one’s speech, and other piercings on the face in particular may motivate an employer to choose another candidate.
Tattoos, moreso than piercings, are pretty permanent. When you talk to your kids about getting a tattoo, be sure to bring up the fact that this commitment is not easily erased. Laser removal can also be costly – up to $300 per square inch of treatment area – and may only be partially effective.
Plenty of people have admitted regrets that you should bring to your child’s attention. According to a survey, nearly a quarter of people with tattoos say they regret getting them because they were too young, their personality changed, it no longer fits into their lifestyle, they chose someone’s name with whom they no longer associate, it was poorly done, or it’s simply not meaningful to them anymore.
Perhaps most important, weigh the health risks associated with tattoos with your child before he goes ahead with it. The most serious complication from any form of body modification is infection.
Other health concerns related to tattoos include inflammation, abnormal tissue growth like keloid scars, and vasculitis, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels. Body piercings have also been associated with pain, bleeding, cysts, allergic reaction, and scarring. Tongue rings, meanwhile, can cause tooth chipping.
Once you’ve openly discussed the pros and cons, give your kids some time to ponder their decision. Ask them whether they feel it’s really worth it, all things considered. How will the tattoo or piercing enhance their life? How will it hinder them? Are there alternative forms of expression they would be happy with, such as creative fashion choices or changing their hair color and style?
No matter their decision in the end, at least you sparked a mature conversation that will bolster their respect for you and remind them of your genuine, loving interest in their life. When something more serious comes about, they will know they can turn to you, which is, of course, more important and lasting than any tattoo or piercing.

5 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Calm Your Kid’s Anxiety

You can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies.

Did you know that anxiety worsens with time if nothing is done to help kids learn to manage anxious feelings appropriately? Although some children are born with a more anxious disposition, cases of chronic anxiety in kids are rare.
In other words, you can teach your anxious child to better manage his or her feelings. Here are a few strategies to help your anxious child:

1 | It is okay to be anxious

Children are rarely able to define their big emotions, especially if they have not yet learned to differentiate between emotions. A child experiencing anxiety is therefore likely to struggle to communicate this anxiety. Parents can have a particularly difficult time identifying children’s anxiety, because different kids will show their anxiety in different ways.
It can be easy to identify feelings of anxiety when your child cries each and every time he has to go to school, or just before his swimming lessons, or when he acts clingy and never wants you out of sight. But anxiety can transform into pain and physical symptoms (headaches, tummy aches, vomiting spells), into bad moods and tantrums, or into inappropriate behavior such as violence and aggressiveness.
The first step to help your child manage anxiety is to teach him to identify and manage his emotions using age-appropriate techniques. Let your child know that it is okay to be anxious. Talking about anxiety and anxiety-provoking situations can be therapeutic for your child.

2 | Create an anxiety toolkit

Children who have learned to identify their anxiety and what triggers it are better able to apply appropriate strategies to deal with it. An anxiety toolkit is a container in which your child can find objects to calm her anxiety. Keep in mind that some objects are more effective than others.
For instance, sensory activities, visually calming activities, and activities that help your child release tension (trampoline) or focus his attention elsewhere (mandala) are all effective in helping your child calm down. The key takeaway is your child understanding that anxiety is a normal and manageable emotion.

3 | Neither over-protect nor under-protect

Just like pushing your child to get over his anxiety does not help him overcome it, protecting him from anxiety provoking situations does him little good. Overprotection may make things worse. Rather than shield your child from anxiety, take very small incremental steps to help him face what triggers it.
You can gently nudge your child out of his comfort zone by talking about anxiety-provoking situations, going over worst-case scenarios, and brainstorming appropriate reactions to these scenarios: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “What do you think would happen if…?” “What can you do if…?”
Tread carefully when nudging your child out of her comfort zone. You do not help an anxious child who needs you present by leaving her alone at a party. However, you reassure her by gradually reducing the time you spend with her during her social events.

4 | Manage your own anxiety

Evidence suggests that anxiety-prone parents are more likely to raise children with anxiety-related disorders. The biggest problem parents with an anxious disposition face is the employment of ineffective strategies in an attempt to shield their child from anxiety. Addressing your childhood trauma, dealing with your fears, and knowing when to walk away will make it easier to help.
Remember, how your child interprets situations largely depends on how she sees you interpret those situations. Choosing to be more optimistic about how you perceive everyday life events and not presenting situations as dangerous or irresolvable will help lessin your child’s anxiety.

5 | Get help

Child anxiety, unfortunately, can point to more serious issues. It is time to seek professional help if:

  • Your child’s anxiety causes him or her considerable distress
  • Your child is withdrawn and difficult to be around
  • Your child’s anxiety prevents him or her from participating in school-related or social events
  • Your child also displays many behavioral problems
  • Your child avoids eye contact, even with family members
  • You are overwhelmed and feel unable to help your child

Multiple resources have been designed for parents to help children deal with anxiety-related issues. In most cases, children can respond to their anxiety in appropriate ways, but only if they are taught how using effective, age-appropriate strategies.